She sat in stunned silence, trying to comprehend the words she was hearing. There was a faint buzzing sound in her head and she felt a bit dizzy. Oh God, please don’t let me pass out right now, she thought as she stared at his face, watching his mouth move.
“Please understand, Claire, it’s not personal and it’s no reflection on your work. It’s just that we have to tighten up the budget right now. Revenues have been in steady decline over a period of months and it’s forcing us to make some painful cuts. I wish things were different but this is just what has to be done. I hope you understand, it’s nothing personal.”
David Landon, the Chief Financial Officer at Monroe Marketing watched as Claire sat speechless across the conference table. Was she going to fly into a rage and start tossing chairs? Was she planning his untimely death right now as she sat there, unmoving and silent? He hated this part of his job and never really knew what to expect from employees when he let them go.
“I understand, David. I know it’s just business,” Claire managed to get out in a hoarse whisper.
She stood up slowly, steadying herself before walking out of the conference room. She walked across the foyer to her own office, went to her desk and sat down silently. Susan, who shared the big office with Claire, barely noticed her pale face and wide eyes when she entered. She turned to Claire to ask her a question but stopped mid-sentence when she saw her face.
“What is it, Claire? What’s wrong, are you ok?” she asked.
“I’ve been let go,” Claire said in disbelief.
“What?” Susan couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “How can they do that? You work so hard and you’re so good at what you do!”
“David said they are tightening the budget, and it has nothing to do with my work. I wonder who else they’re planning to cut. Or maybe it’s just me?” Claire mumbled as she began collecting her personal belongings.
Luckily she didn’t have a lot of things to collect, and she was thankful for that now. Claire wanted to get out of there quickly, before her emotions got the best of her. She had tried so hard to make a career at Monroe Marketing, having begun with little experience and had become one of their strongest associates. She was well-liked by her clients and co-workers and had always been reliable and helpful.
This is how they repay me, Claire thought. She snapped back to reality when David poked his head in the door.
“It would be great if you could finish out the day and maybe go over what you’ve been working on with Susan so she can take over your files,” he said sheepishly. He was surprised at how well she was taking all of this.
Claire laughed out loud, to her own surprise. She picked up her bag and her box of belongings and walked toward the door.
“Not likely,” she hissed at David as she pushed past him and continued out the main door to the parking lot. She slid into her car and gently put it in drive as tears began streaming down her face. Struggling to remain in control, Claire cried silently all the way home.
She pulled into her driveway, not even knowing how she got there. She was in a daze, glad to be home where she could finally let her emotions flow freely. Once inside she was greeted by Molly, the lab mix Claire had adopted as a rescue three years earlier. Molly was always happy to see her, and was a willing listener to her rants and monologues. Claire put her things down and knelt next to Molly, burying her face in her furry neck.
“Oh, Molly, what am I going to do now?” she wept. Molly licked at her tears and snuggled closely, not used to seeing her master upset. She whined and wagged her tail. Claire hugged her and rubbed her soft fur before standing up.
“You always know how to make me feel better, Molly,” she said, scratching the dog behind the ears. “Just be glad you’re not a human and you don’t have to deal with stupid bosses.”
Claire went into the kitchen and took a wine glass from the cabinet. She took an opened bottle of malbec from the counter and poured herself a full glass, taking a large swig of it. The warmth of the red wine spread from her throat, down into her belly and she felt calmer. She took the bottle and her glass to the living room and sat on the sofa with Molly.
“Oh, Molly girl, it’s just you and me and this wine tonight,” she sighed, “guess it could be worse.”
Claire would start her job search in the morning, but for now, she would finish off the wine and cuddle up with Molly. It was moments like this that she wished she had a husband or at least a boyfriend she could lean on. She was a strong woman, and prided herself on being independent, but sometimes it would be nice to not always be on her own. Molly was great company, but she couldn’t hold her or talk to her or satisfy those other needs. She sighed again and took another sip from her glass. Maybe some music would help. It usually did.
Her guitar was in the corner of the room, as always, waiting for her. Claire got up and walked across the living room and retrieved it. Molly wagged her tail in anticipation. She loved it when Claire sang to her and played her guitar, and always sat quietly, looking at her adoringly. She was a perfect audience of one.
Claire had been playing guitar and writing songs since she was a teenager, and she was good. Everyone who heard her play told her as much, encouraging her to take it to the next level. But Claire didn’t exactly know what that next level was. She played locally every now and then, at little cafes and pubs, but nothing major. She was well known in the local music community, and well liked, but she had never attempted to make music her full time job because she just didn’t think she could make a living at it. That’s what she’d been told her whole life, by her parents, teachers, and just about everyone else. Only the lucky few ever actually make it in music, she’d been told. She believed it, and kept her music as a hobby, secretly dreaming of doing it full time.
Her guitar felt comforting in her hands as she strummed a few chords and tuned the strings. She began finger picking the intro of a song she’d written not long ago about Molly. As Claire sang softly, Molly wagged her tail and stretched out on the floor of the living room, the sound of her master’s voice soothing her into blissful sleep. Claire played and sang a few more songs and finished her wine. She debated opening another bottle but decided instead to have a bite to eat and check her email before climbing into bed for the night.
She returned her guitar to it’s resting place in the corner of the living room and went to the kitchen. After throwing together a sandwich with leftover chicken, stuffing, and cranberry sauce she went back to the living room and sat at her desk. She opened her laptop and scanned her email as she ate. Claire stopped scanning when she saw the name of one of her oldest and dearest friends.
Shannon Flynn had been Claire’s roommate in college and they had grown to be more like sisters. They’d stayed in touch over the years even though Shannon lived in Nova Scotia and Claire remained in Boston. At least once a year they would get together either at Shannon’s place or at Claire’s, to catch up and reconnect. Claire was happy to see an email from her friend, especially tonight. Shannon’s timing was impeccable, as usual. She always seemed to be there just when Claire needed her.
Putting her sandwich down, Claire opened the email and began reading.
Hey, Girlfriend, how is everything? You were on my mind today so I thought I’d shoot you a message. My cousin, Jeff (remember him?) is playing a show here in Halifax in a few nights and I can’t wait to see him. I wish you could come up and join me. I’ve played his stuff for you, and I know you like his voice. Have you been playing lately? You are amazingly talented, so I hope you’re still singing and writing. Give me a call when you have time in that busy schedule of yours ok? Miss you! Hugs, Shannon.
Claire sighed and picked up her sandwich. As she ate she realized that her schedule wasn’t quite so busy anymore, and if she wanted to, she could make the trip to visit Shannon. She actually had one of Jeff’s Cd's that Shannon had given her, and she listened to it often. She found it in the top drawer of the desk and popped it into her laptop. His voice was pure and clear, and his songs were heartfelt.
Oh screw it, she thought as she went to the kitchen and opened another bottle of wine. When she returned to the living room she sat and listened and drank. She drank her wine and drank in Jeff’s beautiful songs. She’d never heard a voice like his and it gave her chills. It made her want to make music her full time job. She looked at his face on the cover of the Cd case and thought he was quite handsome. He had a strong jawline, dimples, piercing blue eyes, and a great smile. It would be nice to see him perform live, especially with Shannon. Claire looked at her watch and determined it was still early enough to make a phone call. She pulled her cell phone from her pocket and hit the speed dial button that she’d assigned to her friend. As she took another sip of wine she heard Shannon’s voice.
“Hey girl,” Claire said, trying to sound upbeat. But as soon as Shannon asked her how she was,she broke down in tears and told her all about her afternoon. Maybe it was the wine, but she just cried and let it all out while Shannon listened and consoled her over the phone.
“Why don’t you come up here? Shannon asked. You have some free time now, right? So come up and hang out with me for the weekend, and come see Jeff’s show. We’ll have a ball, honey, and when you go back home you can find a new, better job. Come on, use those miles you’ve accumulated and get your ass up here.”
Claire laughed, a much needed laugh. There was nothing standing in her way, and she could use some fun, and she would like to see Jeff perform. She didn’t tell Shannon, but she had a little bit of a crush on her cousin. Claire knew he was married and he was about ten years older than she was, but he was hot and he was a musician, which canceled out the other things in her mind.
“You know what? What the Hell, I’m going to do it. I’m coming to visit,” Claire announced to her friend.
“Yay! I’m so glad! Shannon laughed. We’re going to have so much fun together, just you wait. And we’ll go see Jeff play, and I’ll finally introduce you to him. You’ll love him, he’s a sweetheart."
Claire smiled and finished her wine. This might be just what the doctor ordered. She hung up the phone and got on-line to book her flight to Halifax for the next day and make a reservation for Molly to stay at the local kennel/doggy daycare boutique. They loved Molly there and always took good care of here whenever Claire had to go out of town. With the arrangements made, she went upstairs and packed her carry on bag and went to bed. She felt much better and was looking forward to getting away for a while and to spending time with her friend. She was also a little excited about finally meeting Jeff.
The young man’s fingers danced across the piano keys as his deep voice filled the room. His eyes were closed as he sang the last chorus of a bluesy, heartbreakingly sad song about a man who’d had everything taken from him and had nothing more to lose. For a 25 year old, Chris Cody sang like an old, weathered soul who had seen too much sadness in the world. He did have an old soul, or at least his father thought so.
“That was perfect,” Jeff Cody said into the microphone. He was working the mixer behind the window of the studio control room. Chris was recording a new album in his father’s studio in downtown Toronto.
“Think so?” Chris said skeptically. He never felt that his songs measured up to those of his father, but he hadn’t been working at it as long. Chris was proud of his Dad, and wanted to impress him.
“Yeah I think it’s great just as it is. You nailed the bridge and the ending was sweet.”
“Thanks,Dad. We’re halfway there, right? A few more tunes and we’ll be done.”
“Yes, it’s coming right along, Chris. You’re a natural in the studio. Once we’re done with the tracks I’ll send it off to be mastered and you’ll be all set. Then you can sell the finished product at your gigs, on line, and hopefully in the shops that still carry Cd’s. Do they still carry Cd’s in stores?” Jeff joked, trying to look serious.
“Some places do, but they’re hard to come by,” Chris laughed. It seemed everyone bought their music on line these days. He didn’t care as long as people liked his music and bought his Cd’s.
“Ok, well, I guess that’s enough for today. I have a gig in Nova Scotia tonight and I have to get to the airport,” Jeff said, powering off the various pieces of equipment in the studio he’d built a few years before. As a musician it had always been a dream of his to have his own recording studio where he could work anytime he wanted. After he’d become established, the first thing he did was build the studio downtown, close to everything he might want or need so he could practically live there, which lately he did.
“Tonight? You’d better get going then,” Chris said, gathering his things.
“Do you want to come along?” Jeff asked. He enjoyed being with his son, and he knew Chris felt the same way. When Jeff and his wife, Nora separated a couple of months ago, he promised Chris that he would still be around and be there for him. Jeff was on the road so much as it was, and with the separation it he was afraid he would see less of his son. He vowed to not let that happen. He and Nora may have drifted apart but he would always make time for his son. They were close, especially now that Chris was an adult and beginning a music career of his own. Jeff wanted to be there for him to guide him and help him in any way he could. He’d been there himself and knew how daunting it could be to find a foothold in the business.
Jeff and Chris walked out into the sunlight together.
“Nah, I have a gig too, here in town, Chris said. Besides, I’m not as good as you are at packing at a moment’s notice and jetting off to a gig and getting there in time,” he laughed.
Jeff had indeed become good at managing his time. Between recording sessions, gigs, special appearances, and media obligations, he had turned into a world traveler who could pack a bag like nobody’s business. He was rarely late for anything and always seemed calm, cool, and collected. He chalked it up to age and experience, and a lot of practice.
“Ok then, I’ll catch you when I get back in a day or two,” he said as he gave Chris a quick hug. Jeff was glad Chris hadn’t gotten too old to let him hug him.
“Sure. Break a leg tonight, Dad.”
“You too, Chris. Watch out for wild women,” Jeff teased. He knew Chris had a loyal female following who swooned whenever he tossed his mop of brown curls.
“Look who’s talking,” Chris teased back.
Jeff laughed as they each walked in different directions. His own loyal female fans were part of the reason for his separation from Nora. She was jealous and paranoid, always accusing him of cheating. He had never once cheated on her, but he couldn’t convince her of it. She saw the way women threw themselves at him and it made her crazy when he was so accommodating with them. When he explained that he had to be nice because they were the reason he was selling records and concert tickets, she didn’t buy it.
Nora was a celebrity in her own right, working in television as a talk show host on one of the major networks in Toronto. Granted, she was not as famous as Jeff was, but her show was popular and doing well in the ratings. Nora was often recognized by fans when the two of them were out and about, and it didn’t bother Jeff in the least. He understood how it was and enjoyed it when the focus was on his wife instead of him for a change. He didn’t get upset when men would compliment Nora or ask for a photo because he knew it was part of the job. He just wished she understood that it was the same for him. Jeff didn’t understand why she didn’t trust him. They finally separated, not only because of her jealousy, but for a laundry list of other reasons as well. A distance had grown between them that Jeff couldn’t seem to bridge, and with their busy careers they rarely spent any time together. They lived together in theory, but came and went and different times, drifting further and further apart until they had nothing left in common but their son. Jeff finally stopped going home altogether and began splitting his time between the studio, which had an apartment attached, and his ranch that was an hour north of the city. He liked the old farmhouse and made it his home, fixing it up during his down time. Nora lived in their condo in the city and Chris lived there with her. She liked having him there to keep an eye on things when she was away, and when she was home she felt safer having her son with her. It all seemed to work out fine for everyone involved, for the time being.
Jeff arrived at the farmhouse and checked his watch. He had just enough time to shower and change, grab his bag and get to the airport. As he undressed he felt his cell phone vibrate in his pocket. He checked it and saw a text from his cousin, Shannon. Shannon lived in Halifax and would be at tonight’s show.
“Hey cuz, can’t wait to see you tonight! My best friend, Claire will be with me and we want to say hi. Let me know when you get into town ok? See you soon, Shannon xoxo”.
Jeff smiled as he stepped into the shower. He always liked Shannon. Out of all his relatives, she was the most outgoing, funny, and free-spirited. They always had fun together and he looked forward to seeing her tonight. He hurried and finished getting ready for his flight.